BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson didn’t need to come sprinting out of the locker room for any late-game heroics this time.
After throwing three touchdowns and running for another, Jackson watched bundled up from the sideline as practice squad quarterback Tyler Huntley mopped up the Ravens’ methodical 40-14 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 20 that was every bit as lopsided as the final score.
Coming off their wild 47-42 Monday night win at Cleveland — in which Jackson was sidelined by cramps before rushing out of the locker room to throw a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter — the Ravens (9-5) quickly dismissed any fears of a letdown with a dominating start, jumping to a quick 16-0 lead that included a safety to open the scoring and touchdowns on two of their first three drives.
The Ravens never punted, and only an end-zone interception on the opening drive and a missed 57-yard field goal at the end of the half prevented the Ravens’ 26-0 halftime lead from being even larger.
“Our guys came out and were ready to play after a tough, physical, heart-stopping game on Monday Night Football,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We came out here at one o’clock on Sunday and obviously, they were ready to play.”
The Jaguars (1-13), who have lost 13 in a row after a season-opening win, were overwhelmed in all phases, beginning with a sack by Matthew Judon in the end zone for the game’s first points.
With Tennessee (10-4), Indianapolis (10-4), Cleveland (10-4) and Miami (9-5) all winning as well in Week 15, the road to the playoffs remains a challenge.
But the Ravens have a favorable path to 11 wins with remaining games against the Giants (5-9) and Bengals (2-10-1), and they did precisely what they needed to in this game, which was quickly overpower an inferior opponent.
Here are five other quick observations of the win, which secures the Ravens’ 10th winning season in Harbaugh’s 13 years as coach:
1. The Ravens’ offense lately has looked like what they hoped it could be.
After scuffling for much of the season, the Ravens have piled up 37, 47 and 40 points in their past three games, and their offense is looking like the multidimensional attack they probably envisioned when they thought about it during the summer.
Jackson shredded the Jaguars’ defense through the air, completing 17 of 22 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns, showing a full repertoire. In the first quarter, he patiently went through his progressions and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin, who used every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to extend and haul in the catch. Later, Jackson lofted a 44-yard bomb that hit Marquise Brown in stride down the sideline. And Jackson finished his day by firing a 3-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, tight end Mark Andrews, for a 40-7 lead.
Brown, the former first-round pick who has been hampered by dropped passes this year, finished with a team-best six catches for 98 yards.
“As a receiver in this league, you can’t drop the ball,” Brown said.
Along with that success in the air, the Ravens remained true to their ground-game roots, chewing up 159 yards on the ground — and that didn’t even count the highlight-reel, 22-yard fumble-rumble by offensive tackle Tyre Phillips.
To be sure, the Ravens benefited from facing a Jaguars defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in every category and the Ravens know they left some plays out there. The first drive ended with an interception when Jackson underthrew a streaking Brown, and some other passes, including a few that were caught, were off target.
“We just roll with the punches each week,” Brown said. “No matter how it goes, good or bad, we’ve just got to continue to get better.”
With two games remaining, though, the Ravens’ offense is playing with more confidence, trust and swagger than it has earlier in the year, and that bodes well.
2. The J.K. Dobbins jet-sweep is a dangerous option for this offense.
The Ravens have run jet sweeps with wide receivers such as Marquise Brown in the past, but using J.K. Dobbins in that role was highly effective and figures to be part of the Ravens’ attack going forward.
Several times Dobbins lined up as a slot receiver, went in motion full speed across the formation and took a handoff from Jackson. By doing so, Dobbins consistently was able to beat the Jaguars to the edge and turn upfield.
And as the defense pursues laterally, Dobbins (team-high 14 carries for 64 yards) has shown the vision and burst to cut back upfield and elude the pursuit. At its basic level, it’s essentially about giving a dynamic back a running start.
But it also forces the defense to spread horizontally across the field, and that should open room inside for Jackson, Gus Edwards or Mark Ingram to operate. Ingram, who played just one snap at Cleveland, was a healthy scratch in this game as the Ravens opted to activate all their healthy cornerbacks, and it’s clear that the transition from Ingram to Dobbins in the Ravens’ backfield is complete.
During the past few weeks, the Ravens have shown formations with both Dobbins and Edwards on the field, and this could be precisely why. Jackson’s longest runs this season have come when motion or other misdirection clears out the middle by getting inside linebackers moving the wrong way, and with his acceleration, it doesn’t take much. A fake sweep to Dobbins might create all the room Jackson needs.
To be sure, this play will be on tape and dissected by Ravens future opponents, but it just gives them one more thing to worry about.
3. Brandon Williams and the Ravens’ defensive front dominated inside.
The Ravens didn’t have Calais Campbell, who missed the game against his former team with a calf injury, but they didn’t need him with the way the Ravens, led by nose tackle Brandon Williams, dominated up front.
The Jaguars have struggled all year offensively, but one bright spot has been running back James Robinson, who entered the game ranked third in the league with 1,035 rushing yards. Robinson, though, could get no traction against a Ravens defensive front led by Williams in the middle along with Derek Wolfe and rookie Justin Madubuike. Justin Ellis and Broderick Washington rotated in as well.
Robinson finished with 16 carries for 35 yards, his second-lowest total of the season, and by stuffing him early, the Ravens put the Jaguars and quarterback Gardner Minshew into early second- and third-and-long situations. Robinson had just 18 yards in the first half.
Williams, who finished with five tackles, said the defensive line challenged itself not to allow a repeat of the game at Cleveland Dec. 14, when the Browns piled up 138 rushing yards and 493 yards of offense.
“We knew coming in that they had a great running back … and the offensive line was good double-team blockers and good combination blockers,” Williams said. “So we definitely honed in on that and made sure that we didn’t allow this week what happened last week.”
“Brandon Williams was dominant inside today,” Harbaugh said. ” … All of those guys just played a really good, physical game.”
4. Yannick Ngakoue and the pass rush reappeared in a big way.
The Ravens had totaled six sacks in their past seven games, with their pass rush disappearing for long stretches against a series of quarterbacks who stressed quick releases. Even when they got close, the Ravens rushers seemed to miss chances to wrap up a quarterback or make an impact play.
In this game that changed quickly, as Matthew Judon buried Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew in the end zone for a safety on the Jaguars’ second offensive snap.
Ngakoue, the former Jaguar who had totaled one sack in seven games since joining the Ravens in a midseason trade from Minnesota, finished with two sacks in this game, including a strip sack that thwarted a Jaguars drive inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line.
“This is what they brought me here to do,” Ngakoue said. “They brought me here to come change the game and be a critical part of the defense.”
Overall, the Ravens finished with five sacks, helped in part by a run defense that frequently put the Jaguars in obvious passing situations. They also recorded six quarterback hits of Minshew, with two each from Judon and Patrick Queen.
The Ravens won’t get a 1-13 team every week, but they have to be pleased that their pass rush was able to be disruptive once again.
“I don’t even feel like we reached the peak yet,” Ngakoue said, “which is scary and exciting at the same time.”
5. The team’s reaction to Dez Bryant’s touchdown catch said a lot.
Dez Bryant hasn’t had a huge role in this Ravens offense since joining the team a month ago, totaling five catches for 39 yards in four games. But his 11-yard touchdown grab late in the second quarter, which gave the Ravens a 26-0 lead, led to an outpouring of emotion from Bryant and his teammates.
It’s understandable for Bryant, who had not scored a touchdown in three years and returned to the league this year for his first game action since 2017. (He signed with the Saints in 2018 but tore his Achilles without ever playing in a game.)
But it was also telling to see how the Ravens reacted, with players on the sideline flashing Bryant’s trademark ‘X’ sign and head coach John Harbaugh greeting him on the sideline with a long hug.
“I was just really happy for him,” Harbaugh said. “It was one of those moments that you could feel it. … I feel like it’s been a while coming. He’s worked hard. He sure earned it.”
“His personality brings a lot out of everybody,” receiver Marquise Brown said. “His energy, the presence he brings, so just for him to get that touchdown, we were excited. Everybody was throwing up the ‘X.’ I’m happy for him.”
Jackson said he had hoped to throw a touchdown pass to Bryant against Bryant’s former Dallas Cowboys team two weeks ago, but then Bryant abruptly was scratched from that game because of a positive COVID-19 test. Now after a stretch that he described as a “roller coaster,” Bryant was back in the end zone with the 74th touchdown of his career.
For awhile there, it looked like it wouldn’t happen. After his positive COVID test — confirmed just an hour or so before the Cowboys game — a clearly frustrated Bryant threatened via Twitter to end his season. Bryant said Ravens running back Mark Ingram was among those who reached out to walk him back from that plan, so Bryant, clutching his touchdown ball that he said would be given to his daughter, said he was grateful to Ingram, Harbaugh and the entire Ravens organization for allowing him to resurrect his career this year.
“It’s been real raw love since I stepped foot in this building,” Bryant said. “It does make me emotional, just because you don’t know. … You don’t know how things will turn out. So, once I stepped foot in Baltimore, Maryland, it’s been straight love. It’s only right that I give it my all.”
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